“Facing Death, Embracing Life” by Brent Foster (1975-1995), in Finding God at Harvard, ed. by Kelly Monroe, pages 129-132, Zondervan, 1996.
(…continued) This notion of good coming out of suffering is, I think, still a hard one to understand. When all the distractions and illusions we create for ourselves in life are suddenly washed away, everything can appear empty and futile. For me, the dreams, hopes, and plans I once had for this world are gone. All that I built for myself has been knocked down. However, I know now that what remains after such a washing is all I really ever had to begin with: my faith in God, and the hope that things are working according to his will.
Without God, life is meaningless and death even more so. As Psalm 127 says: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” I think only after realizing this have I begun to understand what Christ really has to offer. Everything I do in life doesn’t have to be in vain, and death doesn’t have to be the victor. Christ offers order over chaos, purpose over futility, hope over despair, and life over death.
What I said at the beginning about having a bright future is still true, perhaps even truer now than ever. Although my illness will appear a tragedy to the world around me, those who know God will understand the truth which he brought to us himself by entering human history in the person of Jesus Christ. As recorded in his Word, all good gifts are from above, and all the good I will miss in an extended earthly life are but shadows of the real thing. Real life begins with God. This is not the end for me but just the beginning. I find the concluding words of C S Lewis Chronicles of Narnia very fitting: “Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before
I hope that all who read this will remember their Creator, “before the days of trouble come,” so that when forced to really confront the horrible abyss of death, as everyone inevitably will, he will be able to lead you back to safety, sanity, and an eternity of glory.
Editor’s note: In the spring of 1995 Brent returned home to Shenandoah, Iowa to be with his family. He died that summer.
Ecclesiastes 12:1 — Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”
II Corinthians 4:16-18 — Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Romans 5:3-5 — More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and this hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
O Thou Creator of all things that are, I lift up my heart in gratitude to Thee for this day’s happiness:
For the mere joy of living;
For all the sights and sounds around me;
For the sweet peace of the country and the pleasant bustle of the town;
For all things bright and beautiful and happy;
For friendship and good company;
For work to perform and the skill and strength to perform it;
For a time to play when the day’s work was done, and for health and a glad heart to enjoy it.
Yet let me never think, O eternal Father, that I am here to stay. Let me still remember that I am a stranger and pilgrim on the earth. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come. Preserve me by Thy grace, good Lord, from so losing myself in the joys of earth that I may have no longing left for the purer joys of heaven. Let not the happiness of this day become a snare to my too worldly heart. And if, instead of happiness, I have to-day suffered any disappointment or defeat, if there has been any sorrow where I had hoped for joy, or sickness where I had looked for health, give me grace to accept it from Thy hand as a loving reminder that this is not my home.
I thank Thee, O Lord, that Thou hast so set eternity within my heart that no earthly thing can ever, satisfy me wholly. I thank Thee that every present joy is so mixed with sadness and unrest as to lead my mind upwards to the contemplation of a more perfect blessedness. And above all I thank Thee for the sure hope and promise of an endless life which Thou hast given me in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.
–John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, 1949.
Hebrews 11:23 — All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were pilgrims and strangers on earth.